Skills for Success

By Amy Sexton, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

The bulk of instruction, one-on-one tutorial assistance, feedback, and resources in academic support centers may typically center on helping students build course – related skills and content knowledge.  For example, in the Writing Center, we regularly assist students with tasks such as writing thesis statements, developing effective paragraphs, avoiding plagiarism, and researching and citing effectively.  Our resources mainly focus on areas such as the writing process, writing modes, citation, research, and grammar and mechanics.

However, we also look for ways to develop the whole student, and we often find ourselves talking to students about study skills, such as being able to effectively manage their time, read their course materials and outside sources, and engage in critical thinking.  After all, if students do not effectively manage their time, they may find themselves always working against stressful and looming deadlines and not giving their assignments their full attention and focus.  If students are not able to effectively read their course materials and outside research, they will be hard-pressed to write and paraphrase from them.  Similarly, if students do not have basic critical thinking skills, they will not be able to detect flawed rhetorical arguments and logical fallacies in their research.

To help students gain these important skills, Writing Center tutors and Kaplan University Composition faculty have recently composed and presented three workshops that help students acquire the important study skills that they need to be successful in their course work and beyond:

Time Management and Writing – In this workshop Composition faculty member Eric Holmes discusses ways that students can handle the various demands on their time, cope with decision fatigue, and still have ample time to complete the writing required in their courses.  Holmes advises students to utilize the time they are their own “captive audiences”, such as when they are driving or exercising.  He suggests that students look closely at their obligations by creating a matrix to prioritize the tasks and activities that they focus on. Holmes also details “classroom hacks” that can save students time and effort.

Reading Strategies for Optimal Learning – Effective reading skills are crucial to students’ ability to comprehend complex ideas from course materials and research.  This workshop presented by writing tutor Chrissine Rios offers ways that students can improve their reading skills and comprehension, including using metacognitive and schematic strategies, absorbing texts by breaking them into sections and scanning each section, and employing note-taking methods such as double-entry journals and marginal annotations.

Basic Critical Thinking Skills – Before checking out this archived workshop, consider this riddle:

“A man is walking down the street one day when he suddenly recognizes an old friend whom he has not seen in years walking in his direction with a little girl.   They greet each other warmly, and the friend says, ‘I married since I last saw you to someone you have never met, and this is my daughter, Ellen.’  The man says to Ellen, ‘You look just like your mother.’  How did he know that?”  (Moulton, n.d.).

You may know the answer to this question right away, or you may be puzzled.  I have presented this critical thinking workshop several times, and usually, about one-half of the students in attendance know the correct answer right away. And about 50% do not.

The answer to this riddle is that the old friend with the little girl is Ellen’s mother.  The students who are bewildered by this riddle often assume that the man’s friend is male, not female, so they cannot figure out how the man knows that Ellen favors her mother.   In this critical thinking workshop, I talk about assumptions like this and how we should be aware of them.  I also review habits that impede critical thinking, break down the parts of logical arguments, look at common logical fallacies, and give students examples of tools for constructing and supporting effective arguments.

These workshops give us the opportunity to help students realize that skills like time management, effective reading, and critical thinking are important to their success in their course work.  Not coincidentally, these are also skills that will allow students to excel in the workforce.  How do you talk about these skills with students?   Are there other, equally important study skills that you focus on and encourage students to hone?


Moulton, J.  (n.d.).   The myth of the neutral ‘man’.  Retrieved from



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